Chapter 1: The Bleeding Paradise
“What are these big stones?”
“Stones, just as you said.”
“But why are they so big?”
My grandfather was confused.
“Because this is how they are: big.”
“Who brought them here?”
“Good question,” my grandfather replied.
I looked around. I could not see other stones around and much less as big as those ones. The big, rounded pieces of rocks seemed to have been brought by giants from somewhere in the mountains.
“I think the elephants brought them.”
My grandfather smiled.
I climbed on one of the strange-looking stones and took in my surroundings. I felt as if I had climbed on the back of an elephant. Then I thought that the stones were … stone elephants. This is how I called them then and this is how I still call them today. Every time I go visit the places around the Jiul shores, I pass by the “Elephants” as well.
I visited them many times, holding hands with my grandfather. My grandfather did not talk much, but he was patient enough to answer every childish question I had, even if most of the times they had no logic. I would place my small hand in his big warm hand and we would embark on our adventure to discover the wonderful places around Petrosani.
As soon as we stepped in the middle of nature, I felt my soul filling with joy. I carefully watched every small tree, stone or flower in the fields, trying to capture them in my heart, so I would have them when I was away as well. Holding hands with my grandfather I would pass by all those wonders of God and time would slowly flow, while the wind lightly swished, disturbing the blossomed rosehip bushes.
Sometimes my grandfather would utter a sigh. He walked absent-minded, holding my hand, plunged in deep thoughts. It surprised me to see him looking down when we were walking right in the middle of Paradise.
“What is it, Pop?”
“Nothing,” he answered. “I was just thinking.”
“About our world and about how bad it is.”
I watched him, astonished. I looked around and saw the meadow full of wild flowers waving in the wind, as if they were dancing a waltz and I was surprised to hear my grandfather’s words. How can this world be bad?
The sun was shining bright and strong, but the forest was near. From the middle of the woods, the sun looked much nicer, just visible through the branches of the trees. The Wonderful Grove was also there, with talking badgers and grumpy hedgehogs, but without fairies since I saw God in all those wonders.
“This world is not bad,” I told my grandfather. “It is not bad at all.”
My grandfather raised his head and smiled with sadness.
“The reason the world is not so bad is because it still has children. You are the reason God is keeping the earth.”
Is my grandfather right? I liked the idea that we, the children, were so important in the eyes of God. My grandfather told me that when the Lord Jesus walked on Earth, He took a child in His arms and talked to the people about the kingdom of God, telling them that unless they were like a child, they could not enter the kingdom of God. I wonder what He was trying to say to people by that.
“What are the children like?”
“Without any trace of evil,” my grandfather said.
There he was right. I, too, was sometimes angry at my playmates, but I would have never given up our friendship for anything in this world.
The world of grown-ups seemed too complicated at times. I had noticed, even in those times, that in the world of grown-ups, you could not always speak your mind; that the truth was sometimes offensive and I had even noticed that there was a big difference between what they said and what they really felt within. However, the world surrounding my childhood was amazing!
I did not know other countries, but I was convinced that my country was the most beautiful of all. And even if it wasn’t the most beautiful, for me, it was everything I could have ever wished for.
Situated in the South-East of Europe, where The Orient and The Occident meet, Romania can be called the Ada Kaleh of the Balkans: speaker of a Latin language in the middle of a Slavonic zone, medium in size and rich. Even if it cannot be compared with significant vestiges or tourist attractions, it is an attraction for many tourists and those who find the time to visit it, gain unforgettable memories for the rest of their lives, because Romania is unique in its own way.
As was the island of Ada Kaleh, the exotic water lily floating on the blue waves of the Danube. It was there that Hercules fought with the giant Geryon and defeated him. No other unfriendly giant has ever lived in those remote lands since then, only peaceful people who compete in preparing the most wonderful oriental sweets, like halva and rose sorbet. The island was rich in vines and wild olive trees. The people led a peaceful life in that corner of heaven, until one day, the destructive rolling wave of communism made it its target. Ceausescu ordered it to be evacuated and later on sunk to leave room for the construction of the biggest hydroelectric power plant on the Danube; the Iron Gates.
Romania has a wild landscape; mountains covered in woods, crossed by crystal waters, forests with all kinds of wild animals, hills whose gentle crests are covered with endless rows of vines, fruit trees and fertile fields; the proportion of the three landforms is almost perfect.
The variety of species to be found in Romania is impressive. I believe all the temperate climate animals live across the country. Romania has the largest population of wild bears, wolves and lynxes in Europe, while the chamois, an endangered species in many places in Europe, reign over the dizzying heights of the crests of the Romanian Carpathians. The Carpathian Stag, most likely the most beautiful specimen in the Cervidae family, lives freely in the midst of our woods, while the deer, unable to surpass its loftiness, remains the most gracious of all silent creatures of our forests. The Black Grouse lies hidden amidst the branches of the trees in the heart of the forests, while eagles fly over the bald peaks. Only chamois can spot their nests and occasionally the hikers who are eager enough to seek them.
The paradise of birds lies downstream the Danube where the river merges into the Black Sea. The Danube Delta, the best preserved delta in Europe, is a sanctum of life as God intended it, remaining in an almost perfect equilibrium. In it you can find over 360 species of birds and over 45 species of freshwater fish.
Romania has the largest surface of virgin forests in Europe (except for Russia) with up to 250 000 ha. The number of lakes in the Romanian Carpathians is also impressive; up to 3450 lakes on a surface of 2500km². The number of caves discovered on the territory of our country has reached 12 000. If the number of caves is impressive, the art monuments created in the depths of the earth is breathtaking. The Women’s Cave and Bears’ Cave are the most stunning in this regard.
So many wonderful landscapes make our small country rich that just when you think you have seen it all, you discover yet another mystery and another magical land. When you travel through Romania you find it impossible to resist the urge to raise your head to the sky and wonder about the One who thought it all and created it all.
There I was destined to be born. And to fill my soul with even greater joy, God had placed me in the most beautiful part of Romania: in the Valley of the Jiul River. Gentle crests of hills surround Petrosani, and beyond the hills, mountains keep guard like stone giants.
In order to reach Oltenia from Petrosani, you cross the Defile of Jiul; a wild and dizzy place. It seems as if autumn wears all her colours there, painting the trees in so many shades that you would think that you have arrived in the kingdom of autumn. Despite the wonders of the autumn landscape, unless you go deep in the core of the Defile, across the rocks darkened by time, you have not seen anything yet.
During winter, I used to like to go up in the mountains and step shyly in the kingdom of the “Snow Queen”. The dazzling whiteness spread abundantly on the high green fir trees would be capable of blinding with its brightness.
The first time I visited those marvelous places was during a winter vacation. I went with my father to visit my twin brothers, two years younger than me, who were staying in the mountains for almost three weeks.
“Will you really take me with you?”
“If you want to come.”
“Of course I do!”
I imagined my brothers were somewhere far, in the land of eternal snow. I put my ski suit on and my boots on my feet and stood by the door. I was restless and I wished I could fly to get there sooner, but my father did not seem as eager to leave as I was.
Eventually, we left home and entered the van that was going to ascend the mountains and so, our new adventure began. I made an effort to look through the tiny window on my side while everyone else chatted. How could they be so oblivious to the wonders around us? I could only see parts of the snow-tipped fir trees but I was imagining the rest. What I saw in my mind was a magical world, white and sparkling. When I got out of the van, the real world I saw was even better than the one I imagined. The forest was white and the lofty fir trees’ branches were bent to the ground from the heavy burden of snow. The road had become white as well and on the sides, you could see huge icicles hanging from the rocks.
We climbed into the chairlift and started to ascend the slope. From above, the kingdom of snow seemed even more beautiful. I could see clusters of powdered fir trees, slopes covered with snow and some chalets spread on the valleys, with chimneys giving away grey smoke.
The chairlift spontaneously stopped when we were above a dizzy abyss.
“Why did it stop?”
“I don’t know,” my father replied. “Sometimes they stop the chairlift for a few minutes to unload some supplies, but other times, there is a malfunction and the chairlift remains stationary for a long time. In our case, it was a malfunction. The wind whistled and swung us over the gap, while the cable we were tied to was making a sinister sound.
I probably had to feel scared, but I did not. I was happy to be there, even if the weather was cold. Besides, the abyss below us was stunning. Nothing could spoil my joy... The frost pinched my cheeks, turning them red. Soon the fog descended, creating a problem because I could not see the white valley with fir trees and warmed chalets anymore. Luckily the chairlift started to work again. It creaked a few times and then started to slide again over the slope.
We finally arrived at the House of Fairy Tales, the chalet where my brothers were booked in together with some of their classmates. I liked the chalet from the very beginning. Above the main entrance, a picture of Snow White hung on one side and on the other, nicely ordered below the windows of the top floors, the seven dwarfs.
My brothers were very cheerful. Some of the children told me that at night they could hear the wolves from under the window. I glanced behind the chalet and saw some tall fir trees buried deep in the snow, half way up their trunk. Maybe that was the wolves’ shelter. They were probably asleep now waiting for the night to go out and hunt.
On the ski slope, in front of the chalet, skiers were passing by, performing spectacular slaloms.
“It is beautiful up here in the mountains,” I told the rosy-cheeked children who were introducing me to their holiday world.
“It is indeed,” they confirmed, pride arising within them.
However, I was not on a holiday; I was only passing by, so I left the Fairytales’ Chalet behind me and began the trip back home. It is important to leave before the wolves would come out to hunt, right?
This time, after leaving the chairlift, we went on by foot. I let myself slide on the tortuous road down from the mountains, among the snow-covered fir trees which lead to the city. The kingdom of snow was wonderful! My father walked carefully under the fir trees’ cover, stepping on the soft snow, but I liked to slide on the white glass covering the road. One car puffed at the struggle to go up. I moved to the safety of the fir trees to make room for the car, which was going up with difficulty on the slippery and abrupt hill. The fir trees shook off the soft, white snow on the hair escaping my hat.
We crossed over a round-shaped bridge which allowed a tiny creek to flow under the crystal ice. After an hour’s walk in the kingdom of snow our feet, hands and face were frozen. If it had taken any longer, we could have ended up like poor Karl from Anderson’s story whose heart froze. We were lucky to find a shelter on the way; my uncle Sonica’s place. There it was nice and warm. While my father talked to him, I busied myself by sticking my nose to the window. It started snowing outside. Just when I felt the wings of sleep were wrapping me gently like the snow blanket wrapped the frozen ground, my father told me we had to leave. The van had arrived and it was about to go down to the city which, even though it was not in the kingdom of ice, it was near enough. I had one regret though; how I had never known that such a wonderful world existed so close to me?
. The winter holidays were beautiful, especially if they had plenty of snow. I spent the short days sledding and the evenings listening to fairytales. School had its charm too, but we liked the holidays better. One day, the teacher read a fragment from a book entitled “A Two Year Vacation.” I did not read the book, but I dreamt about it. I mean I put my head on the bench while the teacher was reading and imagined my own vacation, long and wonderful.
The summer vacation was the best because it was the longest. We would return our school books and for three whole months I did not want anybody to mention school again.
Every day, in the early morning hours, I would go to see my grandfather. There, I used to play with the children from the small neighbouring streets, use my skipping rope, play with the elastic cord or play hide-and-seek. It would get so dark outside that we could hardly see each other, but we still refused to go inside. Then we would tell all kinds of stories and funny adventures. Little stars blinked in the sky sending signals that we had to be in bed, and the grown-ups would search for us as we tried to take in as much of the childhood joy as we could.
My grandfather would sometimes take us up on the hills. All the kids on the streets would follow my grandfather. There I introduced the “stone elephants” to my friends. We climbed on their stone backs, ran around the glades full of flowers and in the evening, exhausted of so much running and joy, we would watch the stars.
I would also often go to the countryside. My playmates would ask me how it was there and I would tell them about a country with a never-ending summer, where it was always sunny and where, during the night, the sky was covered with myriads of stars. In the evening, I would sit on the mowed hay with my eyes sinking into the infinite ink blue sky. I would dream of what was beyond that curtain of stars and the thoughts described God to me.
“It’s still in Romania, isn’t it?” Adi, our neighbour, asked me.
“No,” I replied very self-confident.” I am in a different country there. There, it never rains.
Beyond the beauty that God had offered me with those places full of wonders, beyond the serenity of the summer sky or the soft clouds pouring down endless snowflakes during winter, there were two distinct realities which became clear to me later on: the communist world and the kingdom of God. The two were in conflict with each other and while the communist one considered itself victorious, the other one raised itself above the entire world, shining like the midday sun.
Beyond the world of God was the world of humans. Communism was at its peak those days, but I could not understand it at all. I would sometimes watch people standing in a row along the streets, holding flowers or flags in their hands. Some would hold big placards displaying communist slogans. Then I would see the presidential couple, Elena and Nicolae Ceausescu, passing by on the main street. People acclaimed and they waved back from their convertible car. The presidential couple smiled and people on the sides were generously smiling back at them, but when I looked at their eyes, I saw something very different: the leaders’ eyes were cold and indifferent, while the people’s eyes were full of disgust and hatred. Nonetheless, they all smiled because during communism, people learned to be phony.
The communists were enthusiastic about what they could think with their empty minds and stone hearts. There was a lot of talk those days about the impressive accomplishments of communism and their great plans for the future. They dreamt of a new world where communism would triumph, the people would forget all about God and humanity would reach its highest potential. How petty those communists were and what a small universe they had! How happy I was that God had opened my eyes to new horizons so I could see the endless sky and go beyond the curtain of clouds!
The communists did not teach us how to dream, but rather how to digest their own dreams. They wanted to build an equal world, but only on the surface. They told us they were working for our future, building a golden era, but in reality, their gold was just a piece of metal plated with silver. I could spot the lie behind their words, as soon as I found the truth and my soul was never again satisfied with those gross counterfeits and searched only for the true treasures.
The communist blizzard blew hard, forcing people to leave their fortunes and faith behind. Many would walk bent so they could move forward, while others would give up the fight. However, the believers relentlessly fought to keep their faith. As a child, I would watch those who kept their faith with great interest, and I would try to walk in their footsteps.
The blood from the sickle and the hammer of communism stained the paradise left by God on earth. Everyone lost their lifetime fortunes or savings. Some were thrown in jail for refusing to obey them, others suffered for choosing to serve God.
Yet, despite all our deep pains, traps in our ways and disappointments of all sorts, God was there besides us. He comforted, refreshed our souls, and gave us peace. Although we lived in the time of communism, we succeeded to remain in the kingdom of God. Therefore, we could enjoy the paradise God had placed near us.